Leading is always challenging, in good times and when things are tough. It’s just that the challenges are different, and our response as leaders needs to be different.
In times of growth, we are challenged to attract and retain employees, manage multiple priorities and try to meet current demands while planning for the future. Motivating and challenging employees is easier with plenty of interesting work and adequate resources.
When we are experiencing a downturn, we are challenged to reduce staff, focus on costs and re-prioritize work, while still meeting organizational objectives. Motivating and challenging employees in this type of environment can be really difficult.
How do you encourage innovation, performance and positive morale when people have seen team members laid off, projects cancelled, budgets reduced and when the future is uncertain? There’s no magic bullet to fix everything, but these five approaches can make a difference.
In order to help employees, we need to help ourselves as leaders.
Employees take their cues from their leader, and if they see that their leader is not coping well, neither will they.
It helps to understand and reflect on our own feelings and concerns, and know that our employees most likely have similar worries. Understand your personality and how you respond under stress. What strengths and weaknesses become more pronounced and what is the impact on others.
Leaders often feel vulnerable because they assume wrongly that others expect them to fix the problem. As a leader you don’t have to come up with all the answers on your own. Facilitate idea generation and use the resources available within your team. Front line employees often have a different perspective and think of ideas that can create successful opportunities for their company. Sadly they often don’t share them because they were never asked. When was the last time you asked your team members “What could we be doing better?”
Meet with your team on a regular basis to share information and listen.
Be as honest as you can about the current state, and share what you can. The holding back of information can be seen as a self-serving behavior and will erode trust within the team.
Ensure you are aligned with other leaders in the organization so you can be consistent with your message and answer questions as directly as possible. It is okay to say you don’t have all the answers. And it’s better to meet to address concerns and rumours rather than avoid team meetings. Listen to and understand the teams’ concerns. Your employees will appreciate it.
Engage the team to create a revised set of goals.
Involve employees to determine what the team’s priorities should be, what initiatives should be stopped, and how best to distribute the work. They will appreciate being involved, and will be more invested as individuals and as a team in achieving the agreed upon results. Consider revisiting the purpose of the team and the individual roles of the team members. Discuss any changes in information flow and changes in expectations.
Recognize that this may be an opportunity to re-distribute the work according to the strengths of your individual team members. Rather than seeing it as change for the worse, it could be legitimately seen as a change with tremendous opportunity.
Don’t underestimate what your team can do to innovate and achieve results when budgets are tight and resources are limited.
Give lots of positive feedback, and encourage team members to support each other.
Feedback is crucial for employees at any time. We all appreciate being recognized for good work, and it is especially important when there is more uncertainty. As roles and responsibilities change individuals may be uncertain as to whether their work is meeting the new standard. Feedback will encourage and keep them focused.
This is a responsibility every team member can take on. It can be just as rewarding to recognize someone as to be recognized. Recognition can be as simple as a well-timed, specific compliment or be as involved as an official employee recognition program. Ensure that the recognition matches the effort and results.
Research indicates that feedback has a positive correlation to employee engagement, and it’s part of building a stronger team.
Have regular one-on-ones with your employees.
Meet regularly with employees to listen to their concerns, support their work, coach, and let them know they are valued.
It’s especially important in tough times. If you are not meeting with your employees regularly, feelings of fear and uncertainty can grow. Employees and organizations can get paralyzed by fear.
How often and for how long will all depend on the number of employees in your team and the other interactions you have with your team. However, don’t think that a casual conversation about how your colleague spent their weekend constitutes a valuable one-on-one. Time allocated on a regular basis to discuss performance, job satisfaction and engagement, goals and opportunities will be time well invested.
When the economy hands you lemons, it’s time to make lemonade. Take the time to re-group and re-focus to lead your team through these challenging times.
Framework Partners is a management consulting firm serving clients across Canada in the areas of governance, strategy, leadership development and research / analytics.
Contact Carolyn Craig, Dickson Wood or Matthew Page-Hanify if you would like assistance in working with your team.